Passenger aircraft communicate with satellites to facilitate in-flight entertainment. Bringing high speed Internet into the cabin enables everything from email and social media to online shopping. A recent survey by Honeywell Aerospace concluded that two-thirds of airline passengers are choosing flights that have Wi-Fi on board. The global in-flight entertainment and connectivity market size was valued at approximately $5.9 billion in 2019.
The system on the aircraft that makes all this possible is called the Satellite Communication (SATCOM) system and it consists mainly of two separate antenna modules, one for transmitting and one for receiving. They operate in the 14 to 14.5 Gigahertz frequency band and thus need to be extremely small, as small as a peanut.
But how can such a small antenna transmit data to a satellite 36,000 kilometers away in outer space?
Well, the SATCOM antenna is not just one individual antenna, but instead is a cluster of identical pea-sized antennas all operating together at the same frequency, and they are more commonly known as Antenna Arrays. Most traditional small antennas radiate a limited amount of power, and the radiation is far from focused. This limits the coverage distance of antenna radiation.
The SATCOM transmitting antenna produces a narrow focused beam, almost as if it’s aiming for the satellite and emits all the radiation only in a specific direction. Moreover, if the link is momentarily lost, these arrays, with the help of control systems, can automatically scan for the satellite by maneuvering the beam in all directions, and once found, they can lock the radiated beam onto the targeted satellite.
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